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Charpentiers d'Europe et d'ailleurs

Mourad Manesse, carpenter in Isère: a self-portrait

Mourad Manesse using an axe to square off tree trunks. Shaping roof timbers of chestnut and larch on a worksite at Voreppe in the département of Isère.

"I was born on 21 August 1980 in Paris. At fifteen, I took a break from my schooling, and worked with a ship's carpenter for five months in the north of Brittany. I worked as an apprentice, but on the sly. I finally went back to high school but during the following summers, I returned to spend a few months in Brittany, spending my time between shipyard worksites, holidays at the port and sailing.
I graduated with a science baccalaureate.
I then spent a year and a half at Merchant Marine School between Marseille and Le Havre.
For three years, I did an undergraduate degree in math in Marseille.

"I mostly learned by doing, by watching people work, and I read books to learn about theory."

I then spent six months doing nothing, then started an apprenticeship in woodworking, but quickly stopped after I spent two weeks installing PVC windows and shutters.
I then tried to get into an adult education course in carpentry. I missed out on two courses due to administrative mess-ups, and in between I decided to get a job at a woodworking firm. I worked for four months, and on the side I studied carpentry in books, hoping to earn my technical certificate.
After my daughter was born, I worked in an organic bakery for a few months.
Some people I knew were looking for a carpenter to build a small house using organic materials. I offered my services, and at the same moment I met a carpenter-woodworker who worked by hand. I understood that this was something that was really in line with my way of thinking. Working with him, I also discovered a book by François Calame. Meeting François a bit later was another motivating event, and all of this pushed me towards my first "traditional" worksite. Although I had already imagined doing something like that, I really had the feeling that the time had come and I set out to discover techniques. I worked a few small sites. I spent a year building an out-of-the-ordinary framework, which borrowed from the various timber-framing traditions. I did some small jobs on the side, and that was my real school.
Based on this, I joined Cabestan, a company in Grenoble that quickly allowed me to start out on my own. It's a cooperative, a company that specialises in the building trade; the employees all work as freelancers. The accounting and insurance functions are pooled, but the accounting is individual, so that each employee is paid based on his or her turnover. Based on an evaluation of my skills, they agreed to let me work with them despite the fact that I didn't have any diplomas. Given the path I have taken and the marginal nature of the carpentry that I do, this is a good solution.
Today I'm starting out, a carpentry professional with a first job almost finished and waiting to see what will happen next."

Associated media

Isère, France
Isère, France